The launch event for Charles Leadbetter’s Cloudculture pamphlet at the ICA last night let loose a rain-shower of thoughts about individuality and ownership...

ICA director Ekow Eshun then joined in with a thesis on individuality and the self and ‘who owns the version of ourselves’ that exists in the cloud? “I say”, said Eshun, “it is not ourselves, instead we merge with others”. Hold that thought.

“So what’s the difference between the network and the cloud?” This was the first question from the audience and it was a good one because it helped pin down the dodgy metaphor of cloud (I could never think of the web as being ‘up there’). Leadbetter’s ironic references to the Information Superhighway aside: I said, the network connects together isolated personal computers and (some of) the information they store; the cloud is a set of tools that we can use, collectively, to manipulate and transport layer upon layer of information and data that it holds.

This raises problems (not really problems, but changes in nature) of authorship, ownership and self. We no longer generate individual work or own discrete cultural artifacts – this blog post might even attract a comment or two that isn’t mine (go on). For people with an old media sensibility its hard to let go of auteur theory and practice: our sense of self is wrapped up in what we make ourselves and attach our name to, and in the myth of individual genius that we learn at our mother’s knee. What we lose in individual recognition, though, we gain in a connected sense of self and a realistic understanding of the process of making as public and collaborative, not private.  This is how Leadbetter’s and Eshun’s ideas come together as a new set of relationships between individuals and cultural artifacts and the society of makers (made by many).

In response to some #cloudculture tweeting about utopian and distopian visions of cloud computing futures I offer McLuhan’s tetrad, or resonating interval. The tetrad plots the points of change on a continuum of past, present and future, by giving a balanced framework for analysing the effects of technical change in terms of what is enhanced, what does it flip into (reverse) when pushed to an extreme, what does it obsolesce and what does it retrieve that was previously obsolesced.

Here’s my first take on a tetrad for cloud computing. Please consider, add to, change or takeaway:

Tetrad for cloud computing:

Tetrad for cloud computing

William Owen

William Owen

William is a founding partner and strategy director at Made by Many, where he applies some of the things learned in previous lives in journalism, investment banking and brand strategy to making sense of the wicked problems of how to make successful products